Regent's Park

Middle English Breton lais

Sir Orfeo

14th century, Middle English: National Library of Scotland, British Library, Bodleian Library Oxford.

Sir Orfeo travelled back from the Otherworld until he came to his own city of Winchester. But when he got there nobody recognised him.

Sir Orfeo (who is obviously intended to be Sir Orpheus, since he has just rescued his wife from the Otherworld, upon returning from this place...) travelled for so long that he came to Winchester – to Winchester he is y-come, that was his owhen cité – that ancient capital and his own city. But when he got there nobody recognises him! – ac no man knewe that it was he. No celebrations for his safe homecoming. In order to keep himself to himself he dared go no further than the edge of the city, and took lodgings with a skinny beggar and his wife. Sir Orfeo told them that he was a poor minstrel, asked news of the land and who was in power now. The beggar told him everything he wanted to know; how their queen had been stolen away to the Otherworld ten years ago and how their king had then disappeared into the forest and nobody knew where he was, and how the steward now wielded power over all the land, and many other things besides.

The next morning, as it approached noon, Sir Orfeo told Eurydice to remain in the cottage; then borrowing the beggar’s clothes, he slung his harp on his back and went into the city so that men could see him. Earls and barons, rich merchants and fine ladies all stared at him, but none could recognise their king. 'Lo!' they cried, 'look at that dreadful man. Look at his hair! His beard hangs down to his knees! He is y-clongen also a tre! His skin is like the bark of a tree!'

Story fragment recounted from: Anne Laskaya and Eve Salisbury (Eds), 1995. The Middle English Breton Lays. Kalamazoo, Michigan: Western Michigan University for TEAMS. The Middle English text of SIR ORFEO from National Library of Scotland MS Advocates 19.2.1, the Auchinleck Manuscript.

See for yourself

Sir Orfeo – TEAMS Medieval text, Middle English with an introduction.

Breton lai – Wikipedia

Sir Orfeo – Wikipedia

Orpheus – Wikipedia

Medieval Institute Publications – Anne Laskaya and Eve Salisbury (Eds), 1995. The Middle English Breton Lays. TEAMS Middle English texts


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